October 10, 2011
Brain Stimulation Will Reduce Anti-Social Behavior?

Another chapter in the research on altruistic punishment.

In collaboration with Professor Ernst Fehr, Dr. Thomas Baumgartner and Professor Daria Knoch reveal the neuronal networks behind self-control in an article recently published in Nature Neuroscience. For the purposes of their study, they combined the transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) method with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Fehr has done a lot of work on the brain mechanisms that cause humans to engage in altruistic punishment. That is where most of the benefit from the punishment flows to other people. This latest report is a continuation of that vein of research.

Interaction between two frontal brain regions

The results of the study show that people only punish norm violations at their own expense if the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – an important area for control located at the front of the brain – is activated. This control entity must also interact with another frontal region, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, for punishment to occur.

The communication between these two frontal regions of the brain is also interesting in light of earlier fMRI studies, which showed that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex encodes the subjective value of consumer goods and normative behavior. As neuroscientist Thomas Baumgartner explains, it seems plausible that this brain region might also encode the subjective value of a sanction. This value increases through the communication with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Sounds like they use TMS to suppress the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. As a result they suppressed the motivation to dole out punishment.

"Using brain stimulation, we were able to demonstrate that the communication between the two brain regions becomes more difficult if the activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is reduced. This in turn makes punishing norm violations at your own expense significantly more difficult."

In the movie Brazil the lead character was able to get away from the highly controlling state by escaping into fantasy. But in real life the technologies will likely some day exist to modify the brains of those deemed anti-social. Mind you, some people really are dangerous and a threat to the rest of us. Is it better to lock them up or turn them into fluffy puppies?

The results could be important in the therapeutic use of the non-invasive brain-stimulation method in psychiatric and forensic patients. Patients who exhibit strong anti-social behavior also frequently display reduced activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain, however, is not directly accessible for non-invasive brain stimulation, as its location is too deep inside the brain. The results of the current study suggest that the activity in this region of the brain could be increased if the activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex were increased with the aid of brain stimulation. «This indirectly induced increase in the activity of the frontal brain regions could help improve prosocial and fair behavior in these patients,» concludes Daria Knoch.

Also see some of my previous related posts including ones by some of the same University of Zurich researchers: Emotions Overrule Logic To Cause Us To Punish, Brain Rewards For Carrying Out Altruistic Punishment, Men Feel More Pleasure Than Women Watching Punishment, and Altruistic Punishment Seen As Explanation For Mass Political Behaviors.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 October 10 06:22 AM  Brain Altruism

PacRim Jim said at October 10, 2011 12:01 PM:

Who decides what constitutes anti-social behavior?
Obama? Reid?
Are you double-plus ungood?
Do you need re-education.
Read George Orwell or Arthur Koestler.

MORPHEUS said at October 10, 2011 12:11 PM:


randall is out to tick me off these week

aldo he results to more subtle means then the regular save the fish an rare african toed gay tree huger stuff

now we have why big brother is good for you if u just let them zap ur brain ull be more happy taking it up ur ass

from the banksters and less likely to actually protest about it

hipikae what a great discovery

are u faking kiddin me or what???

Lou Pagnucco said at October 11, 2011 8:48 AM:

Other less controversial uses for magnetic and other noninvasive (or at least non-damaging) brain stimulation may be adopted
- e.g., increasing math skill - "Get Better at Math by Disrupting Your Brain"

Since there are rare reports of suddenly enhanced abilities in some brain injured people, maybe (if safe) brain stimulation will become more commonly used by scientists, just like cognition enhancers reportedly are?

My guess is that this technology will be used on extremely dangerous criminals on a voluntary basis, unless it reduces privatized prison profits.

Sheila said at October 13, 2011 2:32 PM:

Would I be correct to infer that people like the Church Lady, puritans who put people in stocks, and people who stone adulterers have a very active dorsolateral prefrontal cortex?

Joseph Hertzlinger said at October 16, 2011 2:01 PM:

According to the supplemental data, the control group had 18 subjects in it. I suspect the experimental groups were of a similar size.

Are there any TMS studies with a large sample size?

Miguel said at October 16, 2011 2:08 PM:

Hmm... I think that everyone should remember that 2+2 seldom equals 4 in the world of brain science! For every study that exists that says "A," there's an equal number of studies that show "not A." There was a famous case in neurology of a guy named Phineas Gage who accidentally injured (destroyed really) his ventromedial prefrontal cortex bilaterally. He went from being a calm, law abiding, god-fearin' man, to being an irresponsible, impulsive, violent drunk. The change was permanent. The brain is a very complex and highly interconnected web of neurons. Start messing around with it, and you are just as likely to get the opposite of what you intended.

Mark in Texas said at October 18, 2011 9:38 AM:

Everybody knows that stimulation of the central nervous system reduces anti-social behavior. That is why regular users of methamphetamine are such solid citizens.

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